Jayson Tatum and Stephen Curry are stars at any point in a season, but recently both have been almost flammable. It was little surprise, then, when the two began trading big shots in big moments throughout Saturday night’s showdown between the Celtics and Warriors at TD Garden.
For much of the game, it seemed as if whichever of the two had the ball last would have the best chance to secure a win.
But in the end, Tatum received some assistance while Curry did not, as 3-pointers from Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker in the game’s final 75 seconds helped propel Boston to a 119-114 win. The Celtics, who overcame a 16-point first-half deficit, have won six games in a row, a season-high.
Tatum continued his scorching stretch by scoring 44 points on 16-for-25 shooting and Curry answered with 47 on 15 for 27. The Celtics needed yet another substantial comeback to secure the win. They were without starters Jaylen Brown (illness) and Robert Williams (knee).
“Our guys have done an incredible job of staying together,” coach Brad Stevens said. “And when that happens, and then you get a little momentum, then you have a tendency to respond when you don’t feel great. And so we have a little bit of momentum from, you know, we’ve been down 14 in Denver, 17 against Minnesota, down in every game. So I don’t see us really worrying about that and I see good results.”
Boston, which was teetering in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a losing record just two weeks ago, has now surged into sole possession of fourth, putting it in position to have homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Warriors led, 109-105, with 3:30 left and appeared poised to extend the lead when Walker was called for fouling Curry on a 3-pointer. He did not protest the foul to Boston’s bench, but he also didn’t see Curry kick his leg out. Celtics coach Brad Stevens challenged the call and won, a significant swing.
Tatum pulled the Celtics within 1 point with a 3-pointer. After Walker missed a 3-pointer, Smart gathered an offensive rebound and eventually got the ball back at the right arc. He was just 2 for 10 from beyond the arc up to that point, but no Warrior defender even bothered stepping in his direction as he calmly hit the wide-open shot to give the Celtics a 111-109 lead with 1:16 remaining.
“I rushed the majority of my shots tonight, so that one I just wanted to get my feet under me and take my time,” Smart said, “except I just had so much time that I took every last bit of it. And it paid off.”
With Boston ahead, 113-111, Draymond Green missed a layup, and Walker drilled a 3-pointer with 22.1 seconds to play. Curry answered with a 3 to make it 116-114 before Tatum hit a pair of free throws, and Golden State did not score again.
Observations from the game:
▪ Jabari Parker, who signed a two-year deal with the Celtics on Friday, was called upon for significant action on Saturday. He made 5 of 6 shots and had 11 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes, 45 seconds. There were some bumps. Just 40 seconds after checking in he had already committed a pair of turnovers, and he appeared disoriented on defense a couple of times. But he scored on a pair of putbacks during his first six-minute stretch.
He had a pair of stints in the second half, and even had a play called for him after a fourth-quarter timeout. He rewarded Stevens by hitting a tough baseline turnaround before gathering a Smart air-ball for a putback.
“He gave us some opportunities there both in the first half and the second when he played on the baseline and played to his strengths and did a lot of good things,” Stevens said. “He’ll pick up our defense as time goes on and we’ve got to figure out how to best play with him on both ends, but pretty good for his first night.”
▪ Tatum’s two highest-scoring games of this season have come over the last nine days, as he followed up his career-high 53-point performance in the April 9 win over Minnesota with this 44-point gem. After a quiet stretch following his January bout with COVID-19, he appears ready to carry Boston when the team needs him most.
“Just trying to do everything in my power to help my team win a game,” he said.
▪ This game will be remembered for its frenetic final minutes, but the Celtics might not even have been in a position to win if not for ending the second quarter with great force. They trailed by 16 points with 1:10 left and appeared headed toward a massive halftime deficit. Then some strong plays by Boston combined with some mental errors by the Warriors shifted momentum quite suddenly.
Tristan Thompson scored on a tip-in and Walker converted a tough 3-point play with 49.8 seconds left. In this situation, the Warriors should have milked the shot-clock down as far as possible to ensure that Boston received just one more possession. Instead, Andrew Wiggins missed a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left, allowing Tatum to race the other way for a quick layup that locked in a two-for-one chance.
Still, the Warriors could have made things difficult for Boston by bleeding the clock down. Instead, Kent Bazemore attacked and was called for an offensive foul with 10.9 seconds to play, and then drew a technical foul for arguing about it. Tatum finished off the Warriors’ final collapse by drilling a buzzer-beating 22-footer.
“[That run] gave us a lot of, I think juice, and belief,” Stevens said. “Because you could see we weren’t perfect. Early on we looked like we were moving in mud a little bit. But then he went to a different level and [Tatum] was unbelievable.”
▪ Curry has probably made more ridiculously tough shots than any current NBA player, and he added to his collection with 1:53 left in the second quarter. When Grant Williams bit on a pump fake at the left arc, Curry drew contact and obviously wanted to get a shooting foul out of it. But Williams’s body was blocking Curry’s shooting hand, so the sharpshooter somehow switched to his left and heaved in a 22-footer as he was fouled.
He drilled a conventional 3-pointer just 25 seconds later, giving Golden State a seemingly commanding 66-50 lead with 1:28 left.
“The smallest part of me enjoys it,” Stevens said. “I just hate competing against him. But man, do I love watching him. He is as fun to watch as any player because of his creativity, his mastery of shooting and you just never feel good when you’re an opponent.”
▪ For much of this season, the Celtics struggled mightily to close out games. They made mistakes, missed shots, and just had some crummy luck. But all of that has shifted back in their favor during this streak that includes 1-point, 2-point, and overtime wins, and now this last-minute escape.
“I think, most importantly it’s just our togetherness,” Walker said. “Our poise at the end of the games has been helping us a lot.”